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In issuing an alert requiring compliance with federal needle safety regulations, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations cited the following key points:1
— While precise numbers are not available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year health care workers sustain more than 600,000 injuries involving contaminated needles or sharps, and approximately one-half of these injuries go unreported. While most needlestick injuries involve nursing staff, other health care workers also sustain injuries.
— Fortunately, injuries involving patients are less frequent. The Joint Commission’s sentinel event database includes two cases — one involving an infant and one a child. Techniques that are used to protect health care workers from needlestick- and sharps-related injuries can also protect patients.
— The risk of infection from a contaminated needlestick or sharp is dependent upon the pathogen involved, the severity of the injury, and the availability and use of appropriate prophylactic treatment. Hollow-bore needles — primarily hypodermic needles attached to disposable syringes and winged-steel or butterfly-type needles — are the cause of the majority of reported injuries. Injuries can occur while manipulating the needle in the patient, handling or passing the device after it has been used, recapping the instrument, and transferring a body fluid between containers, or from improper disposal or during clean-up following a procedure.
— All health care organizations should have a needlestick prevention program in place as part of their compliance with the existing bloodborne pathogen standard established in 1991 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that requires organizations to use safety-engineered sharps and needleless systems when possible. Strategies to help prevent needlestick and sharps injuries include:
1. Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. Sentinel Alert. Preventing needlestick and sharps injuries August 2001; Issue 22. Web site: www.jcaho.org/edu_pub/sealert/sea22.html.